The Battle Against Sadr Intensifies

Signs indicate the Iraqi government and the Coalition are putting additional pressure against Muqtada al-Sadr and his radical Mahdi Army

The fighting between the Iraqi Army and the forces of Iranian backed radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army earlier in the week has increased the tensions between the government and the militia. The battles in Diwaniyah resulted in fifty Mahdi militiamen killed, twenty troops from the Iraqi army, and up to 80 civilians dead. One day after a truce was called in the town of Diwaniyah, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed has called it off. According to AFP, “13 of the military’s dead had been ‘executed’ by the militia fighters,” and Mohammed “demanded that this be investigated while an ‘extraordinary security plan’ [is] implemented in the city.”

The disproportional casualties taken by the Mahdi Army in Diwaniyah is a black eye for Sadr. Reader DJ captures this sentiment in the comments section of yesterday’s post, The Battle for Baghdad Continues. The Mahdi Army took disproportional losses, fought in a residential area and were forced to withdraw under the watchful eye of the Iraqi Army (edited):

This is a serious loss for the Mahdi Army and does not help Sadr because:

1. This was a poor showing of force by the Mahdi Army and will hurt recruiting and support.

2. The use of human shields indicates weakness and will hurt recruiting and support.

3. The Mahdi Army may have not formally surrendered but, the Iraqi Army supervising their withdraw says it all. They lost.

4. And the Mahdi Army made the point that they need to be suppressed. The political reaction will be interesting.

Watch the attacks on “Death Squads”, “Thugs”, “Kidnap Squads”, etc, that happen to be Mahdi increase…

It should be noted that Sadr’s popularity fell after using the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf as a battle position in the fall of 2004. His popularity only rose in 2005 after it became evident the Iraqi government and Coalition were unwilling or unable to hold him accountable for his actions.

Since the spring of this year, the Iraqi government and the Coalition have been slowly chipping away at Sadr’s power base in Baghdad and southern Iraq. A raid on a Sadr husseiniya in in the Ur Hayy district of Baghdad in March of 2006 was followed by a strike against death squad commander Abu Duri and an operation against the Sadrain mosque in Zafaraniya in July, and a series of operations in August. Couple this with the threat to remove ministers loyal to Sadr from Maliki’s cabinet, and the stage is set for Iraqi and Coalition forces to begin operations against Sadr.

Coalition officers have been signaling for some time that Sadr City will be brought under the control of the central government. At General Casey’s recent press briefing, the question the importance of securing Sadr City’s during the course of Operation Together Forward arose once more:

QUESTION: I just want to ask a question that kind of combines the militia issue with the cordon-and-clear issue, and that is Sadr City. We know — it’s a place that we know to be, you know, heavily under Mahdi Army control. It could result in a confrontation. Do you have different plans for running this operation in Sadr City?

GEN. CASEY: Yeah, I’m not going to talk to future operations. But I think, as I mentioned, this — all our operations against armed groups, and particularly militia, will have a military and a political component. That’s really all I want to say about our future plans for Sadr City. Did I say a military and security component?

I meant a military and a political component. That’s what I said.

Notice how careful General Casey was to correct an error he did not initially make. While there is no doubt a political dimension is important in removing the threat of the Mahdi Army, perhaps General Casey’s focus on the “military and security component” was a Freudian slip.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Jimmy says:

    Welcome back! My favorite (or at least top 10) blogs. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    IMHO The “Security Component” will be someone other than the Mehdi Army guarding Sadr City.
    An Iraqi blog had this entry on August 7th(don’t know if it true)
    “A C-130H Spectre “like a C-130”

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  • dj elliott says:

    That was a raid by 1st IA SOF Bde on a “Kidnapping Cell” that liberated 2 victims, detained 7 and killed ~30.
    40 minute firefight with AC-130 support.
    No friendly KIAs.

  • dj elliott says:

    It was a “torture cell”.
    Saw video on the raid as well.
    Should be in DVIDS.
    (Notice the lack of unit ID and the “air assets provided precision fires”.)
    RELEASE No. 20060807-11
    August 07, 2006
    Iraqi Forces Conduct Raid in Baghdad (Update)
    BALAD – Iraqi security forces conducted an early morning raid in eastern Baghdad on August 7, capturing three individuals believed to be involved in punishment and torture cell activities.
    As they received sustained automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade, or RPG fire from several insurgent positions in the Sadr City neighborhood, Iraqi forces and coalition advisers detained three suspected insurgents, conducted intelligence gathering on the objective, and then departed the area.
    Iraqi forces seized one AK-47 assault rifle on the objective along with one magazine, or approximately 30 rounds of AK-47 ammunition.
    Coalition force air assets provided precision fires in support of the operation targeting positions from which Iraqi forces received large concentrations of enemy fire, including anti-aircraft fires.
    An Iraqi woman was injured on one of the objectives. According to a coalition force adviser, Iraqi medics began treating her immediately on the scene. Her injury was not life-threatening.
    The one coalition force soldier wounded during the operation was evacuated immediately to a U.S. military medical facility in Baghdad for emergency surgery. He is currently listed in stable condition.


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